That 2004 first round may have marked a turning point in the league’s perception when it comes to “getting your guy.” The fact that Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger have become long-time starters with national recognition has likely had an impact when decisionmakers think about trading for a first round quarterback.
Since then, there have been 16 times over the last 13 drafts that a team “traded up” in the 1st round to get a quarterback.1 On average, those teams have paid about 149 cents on the dollar (according to the Football Perspective Pick Value Calculator) to move up in the draft to get their quarterback. But let’s put aside the cost for now, because there’s a theory that “if you think you have found your franchise quarterback, it doesn’t matter what it cost to get him.” So we have 16 cases where teams were really sure they found a quarterback that they had to get, and traded up to grab him. How did those quarterbacks fare?
While it’s too early to trade the last six quarterbacks selected in the previous two drafts, it’s not too early to grade the first 10. Seven of the 10 were busts, even if I am unfortunately labeling Teddy Bridgewater as such. An 8th was Mark Sanchez, and while he’s a pretty clear bust (he has the 9th worst era-adjusted passer rating in history among players with 1500 pass attempts), he won 33 regular season games and 4 playoff games with the Jets. It was a trade the Jets would have been better off not making, but he at least reached some level of success. The two “successes” were Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco, and neither could be called an unmitigated success.2
Now, let’s get back to the cost. As I did yesterday, I am valuing all drafts picks in the current draft using the Draft Pick Value Calculator I created. For future picks, I used the middle of each round and applied a 10% discount rate; so a Year N+1 2nd round pick was worth 90% of whatever the draft value calculator says the 48th pick is worth.
Look at the first trade on the list. This shows the Texans, who in 2017, traded up for Deshaun Watson by dealing with the Browns. Houston sent the 25th pick and a 2018 1st, while the Browns sent back the 12th pick. The pick equivalent on the Houston side is therefore 25 and 16 (projected 2018 1st round pick), and the pick equivalent on the Cleveland side is just 12. The value given up shows the value my pick value calculator assigns: 14.1 for the 25th pick, and 15.2 for the 16th pick in next year’s draft (i.e., this represents 90% of the value of the 16th pick in this year’s draft). The value received is just the value of the 12th pick, or 18.8. The return is 156% — the Browns gained 156 cents on the dollar, with a raw difference of 10.5 points of draft value, by consummating this trade.
The Blockbusters (4)
Four trades stand out as huge deals: they are, in ascending order of lunacy, the Bears trade for Mitchell Trubisky, the Eagles trade for Carson Wentz, the Rams trade for Jared Goff, and the Redskins trade for RG3. These teams lost 15.8, 22.4, 25.9, and 33.0 (!) points of draft value to get these quarterbacks. The RG3 trade turned out to be a terrible one for Washington, while neither Goff nor Wentz played well as rookies last year. Goff, in particular, was historically bad.
The Large Overpays (aka sending a future first) (3)
The Chiefs paid 174 cents on the dollar to move up for Patrick Mahomes , sending 14.8 points of value to Buffalo. This likely oversells it, though, as Kansas City is a good team that will probably pick towards the end of round 1 in 2018. Houston sent 156 cents on the dollar for Watson, giving away 10.5 points of value, but there’s more risk here given that the Texans ranked 29th in DVOA last season. The other trade that fits in comfortably here: the Browns trade up for a falling Brady Quinn back in 2007. In all three cases, teams traded a future 1st round pick to get their quarterback. By sending the 36th pick and a 2018 1st for the 22nd pick, Cleveland delivered a whopping 181 cents on the dollar. Of course, Quinn was considered a possible top-5 selection, so the Browns likely viewed him as much more valuable than the 22nd overall pick. We saw how that worked out.
The Medium Overpays (aka for when you have to have Gabbert or Tebow) (2)
The Jaguars sent a 2nd round pick to move up from 16 to 10 to draft Blaine Gabbert. That wasn’t an enormous price, but given that J.J. Watt was taken with the 11th pick, and Gabbert was Gabbert, this one particularly stings. The Broncos sent their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks to the Ravens to move up to 25 to take Tim Tebow. Baltimore used those picks to draft a bust in Texas’ Sergio Kindle, and a pair of tight ends in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, the latter of whom is still on the roster.
The Market Deals (5)
Four of these involve trades to jump up in the back half of round 1. Denver sent a late 3rd round pick to Seattle to move up 5 spots to grab Paxton Lynch. Cleveland sent a third rounder to the Eagles to jump 4 slots to draft Johnny Manziel. The Vikings delivered an early 4th round pick to move up 8 slots to take Teddy Bridgewater. The Ravens3 sent a 3rd and a 6th to move up 8 slots to grab Joe Flacco. The Browns probably paid the most, and the Vikings the least, but all of these deals involved giving up between 125 and 140 cents on the dollar, which is pretty much a normal premium to pay to trade up in the back half of round 1, anyway.
The fifth trade I’m lumping in this category did involve the top half of the first round: Denver’s deal to move up for Jay Cutler. The Broncos had to pay a premium, of course, but sending the 68th pick to jump from 15th to 11th isn’t a huge price.
The Good Deals (2)
The Browns made two “bad” trades in the 2009 Draft, although avoiding Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman wasn’t so bad. Cleveland gave up perhaps the smallest haul in history to drop out of the top five, only obtaining from the Jets three veterans, the 17th and 52nd picks. Later, Cleveland added just the 191st pick to move from 17 to 19, allowing Tampa Bay to grab Freeman. Given the small amount the Vikings gave up, you could easily put the Bridgewater trade in here, too.
If you want to trade up for a top 5 QB, you are going to pay an insane premium, unless it’s for Mark Sanchez.
If you want to trade up in the back half of the first round, you’re going to pay the typical premium.
Most importantly, if you trade up for a QB that you just have to have, you almost certainly did not have to have him.
- Note that this does not include Jason Campbell, whom the Redskins selected in 2005. Washington did trade up for the pick, but they did so before the draft, not knowing that Campbell would be available at their new pick. [↩]
- Flacco, for his career, has a below-average passer rating. Cutler lasted only three years with the Broncos, before the team traded him … albeit for two first round picks. [↩]
- After previously trading down from 8 to 26. [↩]